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October 28, 2002

The Confederacy is Evil

Based on a (very good and civil, mind you) e-mail conversation I had over the weekend, I think now is a fine time to expand some points I made here over a year ago, when I wrote my "Southern Heritage is a Crock" column. So here we go:

The Confederate States of America was a fundamentally evil institution. Period, end of sentence. That's "evil," spelled "E-V-I-L." "Evil," as in "morally reprehensible," "sinful," "wicked," "pernicious," "offensive" and "noxious." "Evil," as in "the world is a demonstrably better place without this thing in it." Evil. That's right, evil. Once again, for those of you who haven't figured it out yet: Evil. And for those of you yet hard of hearing, the ASL version:

Really, I don't know how much clearer I can make it.

The CSA was a fundamentally evil institution because it codified slavery into its system of government; N.B: Article IV Section 2 of the Constitution of the Confederacy. And lest you think this was just some sort of mamby-pamby sop thrown in the CSA constitution to please the slave-holders, let's go to the historical record, to a speech by CSA Vice-President Alexander Stephens in March of 1861, in which he discussed the CSA Constitution at great length. The entire text is here, but allow me to excerpt considerably (and to place emphasis on the relevant passages) from Stephens' comments about slavery and its role in the CSA, both in its constitution and in its very formation:

"The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution -- African slavery as it exists amongst us -- the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. [US President Thomas] Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the "rock upon which the old Union would split." He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted.

"The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the "storm came and the wind blew."

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery -- subordination to the superior race -- is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind -- from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity.

"One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics; their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just -- but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails.

"I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal."

Lots of Confederate sympathizers like to say that what the Confederacy was really about was state's rights, and all that. But I don't know. Let's put on one side a bunch of Confederate sympathizers who understandably want to downplay their fetish's unfortunate association with that whole "people owning people" thing. And on the other side, let's put the CSA's second-highest executive, speaking about a Constitution he helped create, specifically discussing the role of slavery in his country's formation. When it comes to what the Confederacy was really about, who are you going to believe?

Yes, the United States had slavery (and continued to have it, even during the Civil War; that Emancipation Proclamation thing of Lincoln was only effective in rebellious states), and isn't blameless of other nasty habits, including brushing the natives off land it wanted to own. However, the United States did not codify evil into its Constitution by enshrining the practice of slavery; as Stephens proudly notes, it took the CSA, among all other countries in the world, to do that. The United States has done evil, but is not fundamentally evil in its formulation, as is the CSA.

It comes to this: When someone tells you the Confederacy was about something other than people owning people, they're either being intentionally disingenuous or (more charitably) are ignorant about the deep and abiding role slavery had in the formation of the CSA. It was about other things, too. But, and in an entirely appropriate, non Godwin-izing use of this particular political entity, the Third Reich was about more than just exterminating the Jews. It just happens that that's the one cornerstone policy of the Reich that, you know, sort of stands out.

Given that the CSA is a fundamentally evil institution, it's clear that any of its trappings are symbols of evil, including those flags Confederate sympathizers love so well. This is a pretty cut and dried thing: If the answer to the question "Was this symbol/flag/insignia/whatever used as an identifying object by the Confederate States of America?" is "Yes," then it is, point of fact, a racist and evil symbol. If you're wearing such a symbol or otherwise endorsing it in some public way, it's not unreasonable for people who see you wearing such symbols (particularly the descendants of former slaves) to wonder if you're either racist and somewhat evil yourself or, alternately, just plain dim.

If you have an ancestor who fought for the CSA, then, yes, he fought for an evil institution -- but no, I don't think it makes that individual evil in himself. I think it's perfectly reasonable and right for the descendants of Confederate soldiers to note the bravery and valor with which they fought, and to commemorate their individual efforts on the field. I think it would be nice if they additionally noted that it was sad that the government for which they fought was ultimately undeserving of their blood and defense, and that it was rightfully expunged from the world, but that's another matter entirely.

(My correspondent this weekend asked me an interesting question as to whether a memorial for American soldiers who died in combat should include names of Confederate soldiers -- the genesis of this question being some fracas he'd heard about at a northern university that was putting together such a memorial. My response is that it shouldn't, for the reason that either the CSA was its own country, in which case its soldiers weren't "American" soldiers ("American" understood to refer to citizens of the US), or it wasn't its own country and the Confederate soldiers were in open and treasonous rebellion, and as a general rule one does not commemorate traitors, particularly ones whose rebellious actions ultimately caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands. I don't have a problem with such memorials in formerly Confederate territory, but the rest of the United States is not obligated to follow suit.)

Now, look: I understand that for a lot of Confederacy fans, it really isn't about race or anything else other than pride for the South. My response to that is: Groovy. Go for it. Love the South. What y'all need to do, however, is get some new symbols, some that don't hearken back to the Dixie Days, when you went to war for the right to keep owning people. The Confederacy was evil, and now it's dead, and its being dead is front and center the best thing that there ever was about it. There is the South, and there is the Confederacy, and a good thing for you and for the rest of us would be the realization that these two things don't have to be synonymous.

Posted by john at October 28, 2002 08:35 PM


Dave | December 27, 2004 05:07 PM

The Confederacy was "evil"? Come now, such hyperbole makes a poor argument. Your assertion that the CSA was evil because of Article IV, Section 2 of it's Constitution falls flat on it's face when Article I, Section 9 is considered. To wit: "Sec. 9. (I) The importation of negroes of the African race from any foreign country other than the slaveholding States or Territories of the United States of America, is hereby forbidden; and Congress is required to pass such laws as shall effectually prevent the same". This is a demonstration of the fact that the CSA government was not so concerned with the perpetuation and expansion of slavery as it was with the protection of private property rights. Yes, at the time slaves were considered to be private property. As reprehensible as this is to us now in the 21st century, it is hardly fair to judge the actions of those in a society were slavery had been largely deemed an acceptable practice by comparing it to a society (like ours currently) where such a practice is considered immoral.

As for the CSA being "fundamentally" evil, perhaps it has escaped your notice that the original 13 colonies seceded from Great Britain entirely as slave holding entities in 1776. Your charge that the CSA is somehow "fundamentally evil" but the USA is not with regard to slavery is completely baseless and ignores the history of the foundation of the USA.

If the Confederate Battle Jack (which was not even the national flag of the CSA), the flag so roundly excoriated by those ignorant of the history of the USA can be deemed to be an evil symbol of "racism", then so can the Stars and Stripes, which I remind you flew over the institution of slavery far longer than the CSA even existed.

As for Confederate soldiers being somehow not "American" I can only respond to this absurd and ridiculous assertion that the Confederate States of America was entirely American. By what logic do you propose to suggest that suddenly these people had become "non-American"? Treason? Nonsense. As far as the US Constitution is concerned, a State may do as it wishes as long as the action in question is not specifically prohibited by the Constitution. I defy anyone to show me the section or article of the US Constitution which specifically prohibits a State to secede. And no, the prohibitions to States coining money, entering independently into treaties, etc. are not valid as these provisions only apply to active members of the Union. Once a State secedes (which it is NOT prohibited to do), these provisions quite logically do not apply since the State is no longer bound by the US Constitution.

Incidentally, no northern State ever passed a law which freed a slave already in bondage. For the most part, those northern slaveholders who did abandon slavery did not free their slaves. Instead, they sold them to southern slaveholders. And northern industry was all too happy to receive the agricultural products produced by the slavery system. There are many ugly truths about this war, not the least of which is that the northern States used raw military power to subjugate and conquer a region of America which no longer wished to bow to it's economic will. That's right. The debates which raged in Congress for 50 years prior to the war clearly demonstrate endless southern complaints about the fact that the northern states were benefitting at the expense of the southern states.

We in the south will not "get new symbols". If you think the flags we fly are offensive, then I humbly suggest you remain at home and mind your own business. Had you done so in 1861, the USA might still be a Constitutional Republic instead of the oppressive federal welfare state which it has become. The CSA merely wanted to be left alone to determine it's own destiny. The continued debate over slavery is a red herring, and is a device used by Lincoln apologists to disguise the fact that the real traitors to the US Constitution lived above the Mason Dixon line.

John Scalzi | January 4, 2005 09:55 PM

Please proceed to http://www.scalzi.com/whatever/003117.html for the disposal of the idiotic line of "reasoning" outlined in the previous comment.

GSet | January 6, 2005 12:31 AM

Feel free to censor this if it's inappropriate, but this site does a humorous job of showing the other side of the Southern coin: http://www.fuckthesouth.com/

Llad | July 15, 2005 11:53 AM

If you wish to label the Confederacy evil, then how would you consider the fugitive slave law or 3/5ths compromise which were in effect within the Constitution of the United States at that time?

Tell me, how many presidents of the US were slave owners?

Answer: George Washington; Thomas Jefferson; James Madison; James Monroe; Andrew Jackson; John Tyler; James K. Polk; Zachary Taylor; Andrew Johnson and (gasp) Ulysses S. Grant.

Washington (yes, that man on the $1.00 bill) had over 300 slaves on his plantation.

US Grant was quoted about slavery: "Good help is hard to find."

Abraham Lincoln's father-in-law was a slave owner. Lincoln had no problem with keeping slavery legal in the existing Southern States prior to outbreak of the Civil War. In fact, he agreed to sign a constitutional amendment to keep slavery legal, now and forevermore, in the those states. Even after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed and in effect, Lincoln, in 1863, suggested that all the freed slaves should leave the United States and relocate to other nations.

Placing 21st century ideals on 19th century documents is disingenuous. It does not take into account the time, place, and attitudes of that era.

The United States of America was a far different place in the early 19th century.

John Scalzi | July 15, 2005 12:19 PM


"Placing 21st century ideals on 19th century documents is disingenuous. It does not take into account the time, place, and attitudes of that era."

Don't be so obviously stupid, Llad, as even in the benighted 19th Century there was nothing approaching consensus on slavery, otherwise the Civil War wouldn't have happened. The "well, things were different then" argument is both ignorant and lazy, and you'll have to do better.

Listing the moral shortcomings of various presidents, etc does nothing to change the fact the Confederacy was fundamentally evil. The US Constitution's 3/5ths rule was odious (possibly because it was put in to placate slave states), but it doesn't rise to the level of explicitly encoding slavery into a nation's founding document and having that nation's leaders proclaim the institution is part of the bedrock on which that nation is founded.

I would agree that the US certainly did have a moral dilemma with slavery, and I am glad that it removed that blot from its national soul, however late in coming that was. I am also thankful it crushed like a bug the nascent state that would have bound slavery to its national character. A country like that doesn't deserve to live -- and it didn't.

Llad | July 19, 2005 03:59 PM

Tell me sir, what was arguably the most unpopular proclamation ever issued by Lincoln during the Civil War (on both sides)?

What was one of the most common reasons given by deserting Federal soldiers in the Army of the Potomac after the Battle of Fredricksburg in Dec 1862?

While I agree that their certainly was no consensus for the institution of slavery, the abolitionists (such as Fredrick Douglas) constituted only a small, albeit vocal, minority.

Consider Lincoln's words: "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that."

While the Constitution of the US does not expressly mention slavery, both the fugitive slave law and 3/5ths compromise, which were in effect at that time, certainly indirectly supported it.

I noticed you deftly avoided discussing the circulating constitutional amendment, which Lincoln would have signed, that expressly deemed slavery to be legal forevemore in the existing slave states.

No slave ship ever sailed with a Confederate Battle flag. Those ships sailed either with a US flag or other countries.

If you wish to consider the Confederacy evil, then I guess you also must consider the USA at that time --> evil ... for the USA condoned and perpetrated the institution of slavery for decades.

I find your arguments typical of one who does not really understand history ... and your perception of that era laughable at best.

John Scalzi | July 19, 2005 04:47 PM


"If you wish to consider the Confederacy evil, then I guess you also must consider the USA at that time --> evil ... for the USA condoned and perpetrated the institution of slavery for decades."

Or not.

The USA certainly did evil in allowing slavery to exist, and allowing the slave states to implicitly and explicitly jerk the rest of the country around in an attempt to keep humans in their chains. However, the CSA put slavery into its founding document -- therefore it is evil. The USA had the capability to turn away from the stupidity of slavery and did. The CSA did not have this capability and quite rightfully died.

All of your arguements, Llad, are based on the precept that the USA was not itself blameless regarding slavery, and therefore the CSA is no worse. But this argument is unfathomably bad -- proposed amendments to the US Constitution are not equal to explicit affirmation of slavery in the CSA Constitution; noting the CSA flag never flew on a slave-trading ship doesn't mean the CSA wasn't actively breeding and selling human beings. The best arguments you can provide regarding the CSA are pathetic rationalizations, and data points that only work if people to whom they are presented don't, in fact, know their history.

"I find your arguments typical of one who does not really understand history ... and your perception of that era laughable at best."

As you argue your points either ignorantly or dishonestly, Llad, I couldn't possibly care what you think. Please peddle your ignorance elsewhere.

Llad | July 19, 2005 06:37 PM

Another typical flame response from a writer who can neither reasonably argue nor understand the past.

Foolish litle man ... why do you think I posted those presidents earler? So you could comment on their flaws?

Heh ...

I posted them because, most of those Virginia presidents in owning slaves, considered slavery both right, legal, proper, and just.

Lincoln's words (that I posted earlier) said it all ... those were the times my friend.

Oh, and by the way, there would have been no difference in a slavery amendment to the US Constitution (which would have been passed if Beauregard had not fired the first shots at Ft Sumpter)as compared to explicitly stating that slavery was legal in the CSA Constitution ... regardless of your irate rantings to the latter.

finally, just FYI:

The most unpopular edict during the Lincoln administration was the Emancipation Proclamation.

Many of the Union soldiers deserted the Army of the Potomac at Fredricksburg because in their words: "We ain't gonna fight for no Darkies".

Your pathetic knowledge and beliefs of the Civil War era are so colored by your own personal 21st century bias, that you just can't stand a debate of your position.

Oh, and don't worry ...I dont care to come back to witness anymore of your venomous diatribe.

Have a nice day Chump


John Scalzi | July 20, 2005 01:48 PM

"Your pathetic knowledge and beliefs of the Civil War era are so colored by your own personal 21st century bias, that you just can't stand a debate of your position."

(rolls eyes)

Use your lips when read this, Llad, so it might stick this time: There was a 19th century bias against slavery, too. And wouldn't you know, that bias was the one that persisted after, oh, 1865.

I can stand a debate of my position, Llad. I prefer to do it with people who aren't so stupid that they don't recognize the difference between a Constitutional amendment which didn't pass and an article in a Constitution that was ratified into the founding document of a country. The difference between what might have happened and what did happen is, strangely enough, entirely relevant.

But I suppose if I hit my skull with a hammer several hundred more times, the point you're trying to make might make sense.

Bye, Llad. Your ignorance and stupidity won't be missed.